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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6094

Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (12:25): I rise to oppose the package of three bills put forward by the government—the ComSuper Bill 2011, the Governance of Australian Government Superannuation Schemes Bill 2011 and the Superannuation Legislation (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011. The package gives effect to government decisions in 2008 and 2009 in their attempt to modernise Australian government superannuation and their desire to establish equitable governance arrangements in line with the broader superannuation industry. If we use the logic of the member for Oxley's argument in saying that the board comprises employer interests, the interests of the military and employee representation, the question in my mind is what happens to those employees who are not part of the ACTU movement and therefore are outside of that agreement? Their voice is not heard. In a sense, this House has an obligation to all of those people we represent in our electorates to ensure the best possible deal prevails equally for all and that the governance arrangements reflect that.

At the core of the change to the legislation is the move by the government to amalgamate all civilian public sector and military superannuation funds into one package. I listened with interest about the efficiency gains and the net benefits, but I have questions about the way that will truly provide benefits in the long term to those interests that have prevailed within the different superannuation funds.

I want to emphasise the number of superannuation funds that will be centralised. The Gillard government seem to be keen on centralisation. This bill would see the merger of the Australian Reward Investment Alliance, the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme, the Public Sector Superannuation Accumulation Plan, the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme, the Military Superannuation and Benefits Board, the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Authority and the Defence Force (Superannuation) (Productivity Benefit) Scheme to form a single trustee body called the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation.

The legislation will realise the establishment of ComSuper as a statutory agency to provide administration services to the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation. The coalition is inherently opposed to this move, although I need to acknowledge some of the amendments made by the government are beneficial. To me, it is obvious that the amendments are an attempt to make the legislation more acceptable to the defence community.

The bills above were introduced in a slightly different format in June of last year, but lapsed in September 2010. Since then, the Gillard Labor government have worked with haste to insert additional arrangements to ensure the proposed legislation is more likely to pass through both houses. In terms of the reference to consultation, sometimes the degree of consultation with stakeholders on some of the complex pieces of legislation that pass through this House is not as thorough or as comprehensive as it should be. Sometimes it is easier to consult with very limited fields of stakeholder interests. The major concerns of the coalition are the amalgamation of defence superannuation into the civilian superannuation sector and the level of influence the Australian Council of Trade Unions will have on the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation board. The bill merges the trustees into a single entity under the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation. The corporation's board will consist of 11 members, as my colleague on this side of the House outlined previously, appointed by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. This is where the major problem arises, and the Labor government is using this bill as a Trojan Horse to raise the levels of undue influence of the ACTU over the pensions of hundreds of thousands of Australian workers. I would also bet London to a brick that a substantial number of members of the various funds that are being amalgamated are not members of unions, and therefore their interests would not be canvassed under the ACTU membership coverage.

If this bill is passed the board members will be appointed by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator the Hon. Penny Wong. The proposed board would comprise an independent chair plus five employer directors chosen in consultation between the finance and defence ministers. Bizarrely, three members would be nominated by the President of the ACTU, leaving just two members of the board to be nominated by the Chief of the Defence Force. This is unacceptable to the members of our armed forces and the thousands and thousands of veterans and retired defence personnel across Australia.

The military is a unique employer of Australian citizens. Military personnel risk their lives daily in operations around the world to protect our freedoms and the national interest, and I honestly believe they deserve better. As such, I oppose the concept of a forced merger of civilian and military superannuation schemes. This effort once again highlights the low regard in which the Gillard Labor government holds our armed forces. To make this more palatable to the defence and veteran community, once the bill lapsed, the government went back to the drawing board and came up with the creation of a defence force assessment panel.

The Defence Force Assessment Panel would review any decision referred to it by the overarching Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation relating to 11 military matters, such as death and disability pensions. This placated some in the defence sector and reassured them that their matters—unique matters at that—would be handled with some deference and special attention. However, this legislation would not hold the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation liable to the recommendations of the Defence Force Assessment Panel. So this move is just a way for the government to pay lip-service to the concerns of our Australian Defence Force while pressing ahead with its agenda. Having worked in a number of areas within the education, Aboriginal affairs and health arenas, often when you have subsidiary structures established the corporate body or the overarching group takes that advice which it deems necessary in its decision-making processes and will then only include in its deliberations those elements that it wants. I would certainly want to see a far better and stronger guarantee that the advice that came from the Australian Defence Force would be taken up much more strongly in deliberation and certainly incorporated into the thinking of the board's decision-making processes.

I am sure that thousands of the Australian people, including many of those in my electorate of Hasluck, would like to know how, on a board of 11 people, with several defence pension schemes being integrated, the ACTU could be represented by three people and the ADF by just two. This is a travesty and highlights the coalition's position not to merge the two sectors together. How can this government really be trusted to look after the interests of our military personnel when it allows the ACTU to have significant influence over the board? There should be no special provisions for the ACTU on this board. All board members should be appointed by the minister for finance, while the defence sector should retain its representation of two as a result of the unique nature of military service and the defence community's special circumstances. As it stands, the Australian Council of Trade Unions can nominate more directors than the Chief of the Australian Defence Force. This is the world that Labor is trying to create for Australians and it is a concept that should concern any decent public sector worker or military person in this country. It raises the question once again of who is really in charge of this government. Is it the unions, the Greens, the Labor Right or the Labor Left?

The legislation currently provides that the minister for finance cannot remove an ACTU nominated director unless the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions agrees. This will include circumstances of mental incapacitation, physical illness, nonattendance or misbehaviour, which would leave the finance minister powerless to dismiss this person. This is completely unacceptable and gives the President of the ACTU more power than the finance minister of Australia — one of the nation's most important portfolios. Somehow, this is quite acceptable to the Labor government, who rely heavily on the unions for their support. Unchecked, this legislation would allow the ACTU to have a say on how defence force superannuation would be managed, while the peer-staffed Defence Force Case Assessment Panel can be relegated to a noise that can be ignored.

Alongside these problems, the power given to the ACTU by way of numerical representation would allow it to block meetings from even taking place. A quorum of nine members is needed for a board meeting, so if there were a topic that the ACTU did not want to discuss or wanted to delay until a more suitable time, they could decide not to attend and the meeting would be have to be postponed. But the government's decision makes sense given its track record of blame shifting on important issues. If the Australian Defence Force superannuation interests are ignored or neglected, the Prime Minister can throw her hands up and blame the legislation for not allowing the dismissal of board members or for the control the ACTU has been afforded. These are important issues that impact on hundreds of thousands of Australians and it is thanks to the coalition that the taxpayer, the armed forces and the superannuation sector know about these issues.

I stand today to oppose this legislation, particularly the marginalisation of Defence Force representation on the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation board. I equally oppose the level of influence afforded to the Labor power broker, the ACTU and the lack of dismissal powers accorded to the minister for finance with respect to the ACTU nominees.